Have you ever wondered what is going to take to get me started fly fishing? I would like to take a moment, to go over the tools of a successful fly fisher and safety tips for when you go out on the water. Please note that, in all reality, all you need for fly fishing is a rod and flies. But the point of this article is to go over the gear you will find in the marketplace and items that will help you with your fishing adventure, as well as tips to make your next trip safe and memorable.
You are probably thinking that the first thing we are going to talk about is the flies you just purchased, or if you have never fly fished before, the type of fly rod you should purchase. We will discuss that in future articles, but first I want to start with the other additional essentials other than your fly rod and flies.
1. Hat — I know this sounds stupid and simple, but a hat is probably one of my most favorite tools on the river. It protects from mosquitos, sun, and foul hooks. It is also handy after a dip into the river on a hot day to soak your head.
2. Sunglasses — I recommend polarized sunglasses. Polarized sunglasses cut the glare off the top of the water, making it easier to spot fish and see your fly on the water. They also protect your eyes from harmful UV rays and also from foul hooks. I also recommend getting rope retainers to go with your sunglasses in case you fall into the water. There is nothing worse than getting wet and then finding out you also lost your sunglasses.
3. Rain Coat — Yes, another item that sounds elementary, but you would be surprised how fast a storm can move on you. And if you are out on the river having a blast catching fish, you don’t want a little rain to ruin your day. Also, the biggest fish I have ever caught was in the middle of a downpour.
4. Vest — This, in essence, is a fly fisher’s tool belt. The classic is a typical vest that has numerous pockets for flies, line, weights, and any other small items you might need. In recent years, companies have also come out with amazing daypacks, waist packs, and chest packs. Check out what is out there to see what fits your style the best.
5. Waders — These are thick, waterproof pants that keep you dry throughout the day. When I first starting fishing, I thought I could do with just an old pair of shoes and some shorts, but I soon found out that I got cold long before I was able to get to where the fish were rising. After I was gifted my first set of waders, I was able to fish long past sundown. They are not necessary, but I highly recommend them.
There are two basic types of waders: neoprene or synthetic. Neoprene waders are very durable and great for extremely cold conditions. Synthetic waders are lightweight and semi-breathable. Depending on where you live, or where you are headed on your next fishing trip, one might be better than the other. Just like a regular pair of pants, the quality will differ from one company to the next, so I recommend going to your local fly shop and trying on a few pairs to see which you like best. Most shops have huge discounts in September and October, so look for the best deals then.
6. Wader Belt — This brings up my third and most important safety tip: Water is dangerous. It is beautiful and magical, but it can take a life as quickly as it passes by. There have been two times in my life when I was truly scared of the water. The first time I was young and the current swept me off my feet and I couldn’t get a footing to stand up. Luckily, a friend grabbed me by the hair and lifted me to my feet.
The second time I was scared, I was fly fishing and went out a little farther than I should have and the water came up and over my chest. Without a wader belt, the water would have filled up my boots and acted like cement chains to drag me to my end.
ALWAYS wear a belt! This will help keep gallons of water from filling your shoes if you happen to slip into a deep hole.
7. Wader Boots — These are boots designed to go over your waders. Some waders come with boots on them, and these are also great for duck hunting in cold weather, but they can be cumbersome if you’re hiking around looking for that perfect hidden spot.
Think of wading boots as you would hiking shoes: They come in all styles and shapes and offer varying levels of support. I prefer a high-top boot with good ankle support to help me navigate rocks and terrain on the river.
You also will have multiple options for grip or soles.
A. Rubber Soles: Great for being on a drift boat or raft, or when you plan on hiking long distances.
B. Spiked Rubber Soles: Great for icy conditions but not great for moss or clean rocks, but don’t plan on getting on a boat unless you plan on walking home.
C. Felt: My favorite sole. Felt is the best all-around sole for slippery rocks on the river. It’s also great for boats because it won’t pop the seal. When the felt hits the water, it acts as an additional grip that sticks to slime, ice, mud, sand, and pretty much anything else your foot might come in contact with.
D. Combos: Some soles are felt with spikes. Some are rubber and felt. You’ll find just about every combination. I recommend starting with felt and then experimenting with other soles as soon as you get more comfortable on the water.
8. Net — The type of fish you’re fishing for will determine the size of the net you will need. Classic fishing nets are made out of wood and fabric. But now you can also find nets made with larger thresholds and clear rubber netting.
I have found that clear rubber netting is fantastic. Your fly does not get stuck inside, and the net becomes almost invisible under water so as not to scare the fish. There are numerous companies on the market making nets, and they’re a great tool to add to your fishing arsenal.
But how do I carry around a net while I’m fishing all day? Easy.
You can place the net inside your back pant, or you can get net leach that hooks to your vest. I love these; I know where my net is at all times, and it’s easy to hook it back on after I land a fish.
9. Fly Box — This carries your Drifthook Fly Systems.
10. Clippers — These are also known as “teeth savers.” This is a handy tool to clip your line after making a knot.
11. Forceps or Clamps — These are great for clamping on split shot, pulling small flies out of your fly box, and most importantly retrieving your fly out of a fish’s mouth after you have caught it. I typically carry two, because at least once during every a trip I accidentally drop them in the water, and sometimes I’m in a deep section where they are irretrievable.
12. Slip Shot or Weights — These come in various sizes and shapes, and they are essential with the Drifthook Fly Fishing System. I am a fan of the bead weights, but some people prefer twists. This item comes down to personal preference.
13. Floatant — Floatant is a liquid or powder that helps keep your dry fly above water longer. I use Gink, because it was the first to come out over 30 years ago. But there are numerous varieties on the market that will fit your fishing style.
14. Indicator — Like many things in fly fishing, you will find a thousand different types of these. I recommend using clear bobbers because they are virtually invisible to fish below the surface. Colored bobbers are great for beginning to see the action of the line on the water, but fish get deterred or excited by these unnatural colors on the water. I can’t tell you how many times I have had a pink bobber on and a fish has come up to try and eat it, thinking it was a meal. After switching over to a clear bobber, I caught bigger and larger quantities of fish.
15. Leaders — These connect to your line that then connect to tippet and then to your fly. We will go into detail about setting up your rod in future lessons.
16. Tippet — Tippet is what you use to tie your fly onto your leader. The greatest innovation of fly fishing in the last 20 years has been the release of fluorocarbon tippet. Even though it does not have the same flex strength as monofilament tippet, it is completely invisible in water. I have tested both types and have captured more fish and larger fish on fluorocarbon than on monofilament. To save on my fishing expenses, I will often purchase a monofilament leader and then a fluorocarbon tippet.
In our next article, we will go into detail on how to add the last tool for fly fishing... the fly fishing rod.
About the Author
Matthew Bernhardt, a third-generation Coloradan, grew up at the forefront of the state’s fly-fishing revolution, enjoying time on the water side by side with experienced guides and lifelong anglers.
By combining his passion for fly-fishing with input from other experienced fly-fishers and guides and his fine arts degree from Colorado State University, Matthew spent five years carefully developing the Drifthook Fly Fishing System, built to help every angler catch more trout.
When he’s not spending time with his wonderful family, you’ll find him out on the water catching MONSTER trout, and he anxiously looks forward to the day when his kids are old enough to join him there.